By Jeff Capellini
The new round of nicknames came fast and furious.
Summa cum dumbe.
There were many others I really can’t mention in this space because it is, after all, sort of reserved for family viewing.
But it got so bad online on Sunday night following the Jets’ absolutely brutal 24-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that even the crying Jordan face grew a scraggily beard.
But that’s the world we live in now, with all this social media nonsense. You cut yourself on the big stage, and the sharks will circle. You do what Ryan Fitzpatrick did Sunday, and it turns into an online smorgasbord of nonstop ridicule and humor.
The problem for the Jets is their 1-2 start is nothing to make light of. It could get a whole lot worse in a hurry.
I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks do a lot of silly things over the years, but I have to admit I was genuinely shocked by Fitzpatrick’s six-interception performance. Not because he is quarterback royalty and above that sort of thing — he clearly isn’t — but more along the lines of the stubbornness he displayed in doing it.
Enough has been made of Fitzpatrick’s Harvard education and how he’s supposedly the smartest guy on the field each and every week. All of that meant little as far as football sense went on Sunday. It was almost as if he was completely sold on cutting off his nose to spite his face. He was going to force the ball no matter what.
That was the Fitzpatrick version of losing it.
“To walk in today and have to face the guys, it’s not an easy thing to do,” Fitzpatrick said Monday.
Everyone knows he’s a feast-or-famine quarterback, but up until Sunday he had been much better over his first season-plus with the Jets than his career numbers had suggested he would be. He had generally balanced smart decision making with a bit of a gunslinger mentality.
But something was clearly amiss against the Chiefs, an opponent that basically dared Fitzpatrick to throw deep by playing mostly straight man-to-man in coverage. Suddenly, all of his back-shoulder and slant magic disappeared, like he was Seabiscuit’s jockey at Santa Anita and couldn’t see out there.
It was painful to watch.
Now, sure, not every pick was Fitzpatrick’s fault. Some of them first caromed off the hands of his receivers. But when you are as inaccurate as he was in general on Sunday, that kind of excuse isn’t going to fly. Ten days after connecting a combined 18 times with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa, Fitzpatrick completed just eight passes to his trio of gifted receivers on Sunday. This despite targeting them a grand total of 27 times.
Perhaps the craziest stat in a game that featured the Jets committing eight turnovers was the fact that Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked once. He really wasn’t even pressured that much. He just made terrible decisions, over and over and over again.
I’ve been watching football a long time, but I’ve never seen a team finish a game with interceptions on its final five possessions. I mean, that takes a special kind of talent.
Now, having said all that, here’s the good news.
Despite all the cries that Todd Bowles is clueless for leaving Fitzpatrick out there despite pick after pick, this head coach understands the one thing a lot of the fans either don’t or don’t care to.
Fitzpatrick has a short memory. That was evident when he faced the fire on Monday as one of the few players the Jets made available to the media.
“I think they’re all easy to get over when you have a game the next week coming up,” Fitzpatrick said. “But it was so bad, and there were so many poor things on my part that happened in that game that you want to put it behind you as fast as you can.”
Despite what we saw Sunday, I would be very surprised if it carried over to the Week 4 meeting with the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium. Bowles agrees. That’s not to say he won’t pull Fitzpatrick if his struggles continue, but this coach knows a truth a certain faction of Jets fans have a hard time accepting.
Fitzpatrick, even when he’s not at his best, is clearly the Jets’ best option.
The idea of Geno Smith is nothing more than a distraction. The backup QB is always the most popular guy on the team during times of despair. The Jets likely have no intention of ever playing Smith unless they absolutely have to. I mean, he couldn’t get into a game in which the starter set the position back 70 years. Fitz may have a shorter leash next week, but how much shorter? Five interceptions?
Forget Smith. If the Jets’ season ever goes completely off the rails, Bryce Petty is likely to get a chance to show something first. Make no mistake, as long as the Jets think they have a shot to do something of note this season, they are riding or dying with Fitzpatrick.
What the 12-year veteran needs to do now is realize that he did indeed sign that contract which pays him $12 million this season. It wasn’t a dream. Fitzpatrick is not only playing to justify that deal; he’s also trying to prove that he can be a starter for someone next year. And while many folks will snicker at the idea of that, he is still quite capable of being the guy who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and set a Jets single-season touchdown pass record in 2015.
Because as much as certain Jets fans want the “average journeyman” quarterback with the inaccurate arm to just go away, he’s still better than anyone on this roster, and this team doesn’t really have any alternatives beyond 2016. Sure, you can say Petty and Christian Hackenberg have potential, but the former couldn’t beat out Smith for the backup job and the latter has already shown that he’s redefining the term “work in progress.”
The Fitzpatrick of Week 2, the one who won AFC Offensive Player of the Week, needs to walk out of the tunnel at MetLife on Sunday against the Seahawks. He needs to put that short memory to good use and try to recapture some of the magic that he misplaced somewhere between the airport and Arrowhead Stadium.
“The lesson from that game is you can’t turn the ball over, especially that many times, and expect to win games in the NFL,” Fitzpatrick said.
Through three weeks, the Jets have shown that they have the offensive line and the players at the skill positions to be a very good offensive club. Even with his apparent shortcomings, Fitzpatrick has no excuses. None whatsoever.
Because he’s been the quarterback the Jets need before. It stands to reason he can be it again. Style points be damned.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet